What do you believe? Are your beliefs based on truth or error?
The Nicene Creed begins each major part with “We believe;” The Apostles Creed similarly says “I believe.” These statements define the essential beliefs of the Church throughout the world as they were in the fourth Century. Should not the same to be true today? If not, it seems that a church has taken upon itself to introduce beliefs that did not come from Jesus through the Apostles. Such are false beliefs.
Every church and each individual Christian can examine themselves by these creeds. Do you believe?
Let me share an early example of a group that called themselves Christian but did not believe. I quote here and throughout this Blog from Biographical sketches of memorable Christians of the past, by James E. Kiefer. In a biographical sketch of Athanasius, whom I will address later, Kiefer wrote:
In 313 the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which changed Christianity from a persecuted to an officially favored religion. About six years later, a presbyter (elder, priest) Arius of Alexandria began to teach concerning the Word of God (John 1:1) that "God begat him, and before he was begotten, he did not exist."
Arius gained a following from his teaching that denied the eternal divinity of Jesus Christ. His followers continued to think of themselves as Christians, although they were embracing a belief that was counter to the Church’s beliefs of the previous three centuries. Enter Athanasius. Of him, Kiefer writes:
Athanasius was at that time a newly ordained deacon, secretary to Bishop Alexander of Alexandria, and a member of his household. His reply to Arius was that the begetting, or uttering, of the Word by the Father is an eternal relation between Them, and not a temporal event.
The dispute that developed between Arius and his overseer, Alexander as well as Alexander’s assistant, Athanasius became widely known in the Church during the first part of the fourth Century, coming to the attention of Emperor Constantine. Kiefer writes about Constantine’s reaction:
The Emperor Constantine undertook to resolve the dispute by calling a council of bishops from all over the Christian world. This council met in Nicea, just across the straits from what is now Istanbul, in the year 325, and consisted of 317 bishops. Athanasius accompanied his bishop to the council, and became recognized as a chief spokesman for the view that the Son was fully God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.
Summarizing the outcome of this council, Kiefer writes:
The party of Athanasius was overwhelmingly in the majority… So the result was that the Council adopted a creed which is a shorter version of what we now call the Nicene Creed, declaring the Son to be "of one substance with the Father." At the end, there were only two holdouts.
But Arius and his followers, who came to be known as Arians, were not stopped. They continued for the next fifty-plus years to spread their teaching and gain political support from the Roman Emperors. Athanasius, who later became the Bishop of Alexandria, continued to oppose them, writing voluminous rebuttals in theses such as On the Incarnation and Four Discourses. For the rest of his life, he suffered from false accusations and persecutions but never ceased to fight for the truth. He prevailed, and in 381 AD, after his death, the Council of Constantinople confirmed the truth in the revised statement that came to be known as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.
Kiefer summarized the contribution of Athanasius:
Outside the pages of the New Testament itself, Athanasius is probably the man to whom we chiefly owe the preservation of the Christian faith.
Yes, it was preserved, and as I mentioned in the first Blog on this subject, it continues to be embraced by every major part of Christianity throughout the world today. Nonetheless, there are counterparts to the Arians today, who hold on the teaching that denies Jesus Christ’s eternal divinity.
So, what do you believe? Do you or your church believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father? Or, do you as some limit Him by saying that he was only a good man or great teacher or special creation or something less than God who came in human flesh? What else do you believe? Do your beliefs align with the Nicene Creed? If so, you share the orthodox beliefs taught by the Apostles and recorded in the New Testament. If not, you would do well to reconsider your beliefs.
In the next Blog, we will consider what churches can do to reconcile their doctrines to the essential beliefs of the Church found in the Nicene Creed.